Maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs learned something important from their 5-4 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes last night. That lesson might be the (almost) successful relief appearance of emergency call-up goalie Erik Kallgren, who jumped in when starter Petr Mrazek was pulled during the second period.
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In short, Kallgren made good on his chance. He didn’t win the game – perhaps that would have been far too Hollywood than hockey – but he showed well. That gives Maple Leafs’ fans something to hope about as the team finds itself in the midst of a difficult goalie dilemma.
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As well, in this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at the Maple Leafs’ comeback that got them a point in the standings and almost a victory. Specifically, I’ll look at Auston Matthews’ continued dominance of – well – everybody.
Item One: Erik Kallgren Looks Good in His NHL Debut
There are a couple of things that stand out as positives in Kallgren’s relief appearance. One was that he held the fort and allowed his team to get back into the game. The team picked up a point, which is a point. Second, he looked solid and steady – and the steady part seems to be a huge key.
Kallgren made 10 saves after Petr Mrazek was pulled just over halfway through the second period. Mrazek had given up four goals on 12 shots. Kallgren’s debut was impressive. It especially impressed the person who’s probably most important for his future; and, that’s Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Keefe noted that Kallgren “was great, he was calm, cool, collected.”
Keefe noted that Kallgren had made some big saves and that he “looked confident for a guy going in for the first time under those circumstances with no heads up. I thought he looked excellent. Obviously, nothing he could do at all on the winning goal.”
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Given that any save by a Maple Leafs’ goalie in last night’s game before Kallgren got into the game could be defined as a “big save” suggests that Kallgren might get more time than anyone thought. Mrazek is struggling.
Item Two: Auston Matthews Better Clear His Trophy Case
I am constantly impressed with Auston Matthews’ play. He’s nothing short of amazing. Last night, he scored his 44th goal of the season to extend his NHL leadership in that category. After his slow start to the season, where he missed training camp and a few games, he’s come on like gangbusters.
Matthews now has goals in four straight games and has almost averaged two goals per game (he scored seven in four). He not only seems to be a lock for the Rocket Richard Trophy, but also has to be considered for the Hart and the Selke trophies as well. There’s no question that he’s the MVP of the Maple Leafs team and his defensive game has grown quickly.
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He could be even as dominant on the defensive side of the ice than he is on the offensive side. His 44 goals and 32 assists give him 76 points in 55 games. The only thing he doesn’t seem able to do is to draw penalties. Did I hear the radio broadcasters note that he’s only drawn seven penalties on the season?
Item Three: Rasmus Sandin Remains Out with His Illness
Rasmus Sandin did not play yet again last night. Whatever his illness is, he seems to have a tough time getting over it. Missing the game Thursday was his fourth missed game in a row. He had been on a bit of a roll prior to becoming ill, with three points in two games.
It will be good to have him back on the ice. He has a couple of days for rest and healing before the Maple Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. In my mind, Sandin has used the season to more firmly establish himself as part of the Maple Leafs’ mix into the future.
He might still make rookie mistakes, but he’s going to become a strong NHL defenseman with an offensive flair. He’s only had 15 points in 47 games this season, but that seems to only be the start of what he’ll be able to do regularly over the next few seasons.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
It’s tough to say how much credit the Coyotes deserve for winning last night’s game vs. how much blame the Maple Leafs have to shoulder. Mrazek did not have a good game; and, only stopping eight of 12 shots is not close to sufficient.
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The big question right now for the Maple Leafs is in goal. But, as I noted in yesterday’s post, the attitude that the team can come back from any deficit and win is a two-edged sword. It keeps the team from giving up when they’re down; but, it doesn’t always work.
Last night, it didn’t work. Fortunately, a tie carries a point with it. Good for the Coyotes, as well. It was their team’s fourth straight win, so perhaps it isn’t all luck.